10) A Cinderella Story
Is Hillary Duff's 15 minutes up yet?
OK; that's a bit unfair. After all, I'm hardly in the target audience for this one, and I'm afraid I wasn't all that big a fan of Cinderella even when I was. This breezy vehicle for Duff - her first since the rather acrimonious split with Disney - is exactly what the title says it is: an updated version of the fairytale romance where the beauteous and virtuous heroine wins the heart of her beloved and sticks it to her ugly stepsisters and wicked, wicked stepmother with the help of her fairy godmother. Teen girls will eat it up; teen boys will avoid it like the plague; and the coffers over at Warner's will grow a might fatter in what will likely be but the first stage of profits from this good-girl-triumphs redux.
Lo, how the mighty have fallen; from Oscar winner and Bond girl to...whatever the hell this is called. The stench from this one started once the set-side pics of Halle Berry's costume hit the Web, and aging hasn't improved its smell. Originally touted as not being the same character as the Selina Kile/Catwoman portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, the word from the star herself is that the Patience Price/Catwoman in this go-round is kinda-sorta not the same but kinda-sorta is. And if you understand that, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Regardless of who she is or isn't, however, one thing does seem to be pretty clear: pretty much everyone with the apparent exception of Berry and the costume designer for this movie hates the Catwoman drag with a fiery vengeance. Of course, the moviegoing public might be completely surprised and this might be a hoot-and-a-half popcorn flick, but one really doesn't get a feeling of any confidence from the trailers or the ads. Look for this one to open to a middling amount and then head for the home video market, where you and your friends can MST3K it to your heart's content.
8) The Manchurian Candidate
Another entry in the Remake We Didn't Ask For contest this year, The Manchurian Candidate benefits from the presence of the formidable talents of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in front of the camera and Jonathan Demme behind it. The story, updated from the Korean War to the (presumably first) Gulf War has reportedly remained essentially unchanged: a tale of intrigue, influence-brokering, the chess match that is an election campaign, and the power-hungry few who are willing to subvert the democratic process if it brings them the influence they crave. The star power has brought what would ordinarily have likely been a limited release into the mainstream, but given the tactics already seen in this election year, perhaps a wide release is not only mandated by the status of the players but hopefully beneficial in opening some eyes to the reality that image does not replace substance, and oft-repeated platitudes do not a coherent policy make.
7) Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Hey, look; it's a modern-day Road picture!
For those to whom that phrase means doodley-squat, let me elaborate. Once upon a time, before the Earth had cooled and dinosaurs ruled the planet, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made a series of very successful black-and-white comedies that saw them scampering off to various exotic locales in pursuit of riches and/or Dorothy Lamour. These lightweight bits of fluff existed solely to allow Lamour and Crosby to sing, and Hope to be funny (Yes, Virginia; Bob Hope was actually funny at one time). Much as the old Road films, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle pretty much sums up its plot in its title. Two college-age stoners, looking to satisfy their cravings, go on a quest for the what-passes-for-hamburgers served only at the odd-looking restaurants that have spawned a number of imitators but no equals. And if that isn't damning with faint praise, I don't know what is. The burgers; not the film, which seems like a pleasant enough way to spend 90-some-odd minutes of time out of the summer heat in an air-conditioned theatre. Will Harold and Kumar find a White Castle? Will their insatiable desire for greasy little squares of ground beef on nearly inedible buns be quenched? Will our stoner heroes be able to overcome the obstacles in their path in order to reach their equivalent of culinary nirvana? Is this the most obvious example of the title spelling out the ending since The Search for Spock? If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you were probably surprised by the ending of Dude, Where's My Car?, and will have to wait with a worm on your tongue until this baby hits theatres at the end of July.
6) King Arthur
Another film being updated for no good reason and whose ending we already know, King Arthur posits a King of the Britons who is an action hero/hunk, and a Guinevere who's an Amazonian vision that can kick ass and take names with the best of the Knights of the Round Table. Nothing against Clive Owen, but I prefer my King Arthurs to have a bit more gravitas, and with a voice that can summon the stones to unloose their tongues and the rivers to change their course. OK, OK; so I'm given to purple prose, but there's no one who can compare to Richard Burton's Arthur as far as I'm concerned. Sad that his portrayal does not survive on film save for excerpts, which leaves me turning to Monty Python for the next-best thing. But we were talking about King Arthur in the 21st Century, and...well, what can I say? Keira Knightley looks stunning, Clive Owen and his Lancelot, Ioan Gruffudd, have the requisite English accents, and the proceedings seem very glossy and F/X-laden. It should make a bit of a dent in theatres, but coming as it does on the heels of this month's Sure Bet for Top Spot, it probably won't be there for long.
But if anyone ever decides to do a film, or a series of films, based on Mary Stewart's Merlin-centric books, I'm there.
[b]5) I, Robot
This one gets rated this highly under protest. It's Will Smith, it's F/X-riffic science fiction, and it's going to get a big, big build-up from 20th Century Fox. So it's probably set to take its opening weekend. But see, the filmmakers made the mistake of letting it be known that the script - or at least, the version they obviously paid little attention to during production - was based on the short stories collected in Asimov's I, Robot anthology. And as a fan of those stories, and the Robots of Dawn series of novels, I just can't abide what they've done to the source material. They've basically taken the Will Smith Action/Comedy Template and overlaid it onto an existing universe, and in this case, it's not a good fit. And since I still have a very bad taste in my mouth from The Wild Wild West - the last film which suffered at the hands of the "Let's make this a Will Smith 'Independence Day' flick" contingent - I could not possibly be less enthused about this project. However, as stated in the beginning, this is 20th's tentpole release, and it's a big-budget effects film, and it does star Will Smith, so that's worth something at the box office. And I would be placing it higher in the rank - still under protest, mind you - were it not for the fact that even folks who have little fealty to the source material are not finding much in the trailer to recommend the flick.
Oh, and just for the record: The tagline on the posters - "One man saw it coming" - is WRONG. No one saw it coming, because of the First Law of Robotics. Period.
OK. I'm done ranting now.[/b]
4) The Village
M Night Shyamalan's offering this year is a period piece about a small near-the-turn-of-the-20th-century farming community and their relationship with the possibly-mythical beasties that roameth the nearby woods. As is the case with most Shyamalan films, few specifics are available about the plot; however, it's safe to say that there will be some scary doings, some gotcha moments that you think are the big reveal but aren't, and that big-ass twist to the story most of us didn't see coming. The summer season always needs at least one horror flick - or that's my rule, anyway - and Shyamalan's films, while not strictly horror fare, have always delivered on the chills, if not so much on the terror (Yeah, I love me some terror in my spook movies; I'm a sick pup). Shyamalan has a pretty good track record to date, and although none of his flicks have quite matched the breakout success of The Sixth Sense, his other post-Sense projects have certainly done respectably at the box office. With no other competing films on the slate for a couple of weeks, The Village should have a fair chance to demonstrate if it's more to the Unbreakable or Signs end of the Shyamalan spectrum. And we'll all get a chance to find out what up with the creatures and the villagers and the dead animals, oh, my.
Shhh. Don't tell anybody, but Will Ferrell is becoming quite the comedy movie star.
I know; I was surprised, too. But hey; the guy may have been kinda one note on SNL, but he's actually begun to display more than the Really Weird Guy persona he had going on for...what? A decade? Of all the films on the July slate, this is the one I don't really think anyone is going to see coming in a box-office sense; yes, there are bigger F/X films with bigger stars, but that didn't stop Ferrell with Elf, and I don't think it's going to stop him with Anchorman. Add to that the fact that the film looks funny, and provided all the good jokes aren't in the trailer, we've got a nice skewering of the news-as-entertainment mentality that started taking over at the local level in the '70s - when the film is set - and pretty much rules the network news divisions to this day. Add in the talents of Ben Stiller (having redeemed himself after the mega-bomb that was Envy with his turn in Dodgeball), Jack Black (who now has a chance to redeem himself after the aforementioned mega-bomb) and Stephen Root (who just doesn't get enough credit for his unerring comedy timing and ability to make the weird-ass character somewhat understandable to what-passes-for-normal folks) and Anchorman looks to be the not-quite-sleeper-but-still-a-tad-surprising success story of the summer. And certainly less of a disappointment than I, Robot, at least from where I'm sitting.
2) The Bourne Supremacy
The second novel in the Bourne series hits theatres with Matt Damon reprising his role as the fictional assassin-cum-avenging superspy. This time around, the Man Who Doesn't Want to Be Bourne has to take on practically the entire covert-ops industry as he attempts to prove he wasn't the Jason Bourne who murdered a Chinese diplomat, thus sparking the ever-popular International Incident that could lead to World War III. The trailer and ads for this one look sufficiently action- and intrigue-filled, and while it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that The Secret Agent Formerly Known as Jason Bourne triumphs in the end - there are more books in the series - it does seem as if the film makes it to the proverbial fireworks factory with lots of flair and style.
And two hardboiled eggs.
1) Spider-Man 2
Every month so far this summer has had a 500-pound gorilla, nearly-sure-fire film, and July sees the return of the Web-Slinger in that role. After the first pic in the now-franchise broke all sorts of box-office records - which have since been broken themselves - a sequel was inevitable; it was just a matter of getting everyone signed on the dotted line. Oh, yeah; and they needed a script, too, or as I like to call it, "the framework on which we'll hang special effects". Tobey McGuire reprises the title role of the reluctant superhero who, like many a conflicted champion - guess someone had to take up Angel's mantle - decides to quit his do-gooder derring-do when it puts a crimp in his love life. But really, does anybody care about the so-called plot? (Before all you GFBs out there send me irate e-mails, I'm not maligning your hero; I'm just not a member of your portion of the Geek Food Chain, OK?) Spidey's going to swing from buildings in cool ways; fight his Arch Nemesis-of-the-Week, who will likewise be able to do cool stuff; and try and get him a little love-'em-up with the woman of his dreams. Oh, and make a gazillion dollars in the process. And spawn another sequel. Because when it comes to big-budget superheroes, no one seems to have the talent for living happily ever after. Because if they did...well, where would the GFBs be?